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Robert Montgomery Bird family correspondence

Ms. Coll. 1074

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Summary Information

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Bird, Frederic Mayer, 1838-1908
Bird, Mary E.
Bird, Robert Montgomery, 1806-1854
Robert Montgomery Bird family correspondence
Date [bulk]:
Date [inclusive]:
Call Number:
Ms. Coll. 1074
0.4 linear feet (1 box)
This collection contains correspondence between Robert Montgomery Bird, his wife Mary E. Bird, their son Frederic Mayer Bird, and other family members. It provides accounts of daily life in New Castle, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the 19th century.
Cite as:
Robert Montgomer Bird family correspondence, Robert Montgomer Bird family correspondence, 1820-1991 (Bulk: 1831-1908), Ms. Coll. 1074, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania
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Robert Montgomery Bird (1806-1854) was born in New Castle Delaware in 1806. The sixth of the seven children born to John and Elizabeth (Van Leuvenigh) Bird, he joined brothers John Dickinson, James Madison, Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson, and sister Ann Van Leuvenigh. Younger brother Henry Dearborn was born two years later. Following the family's financial ruin and his father's subsequent death, Robert M. Bird was sent to live with his uncle and guardian, Nicholas Van Dyke. Having completed his secondary school education at Germantown Academy, Bird studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. It was during this period that he began to compose poetry and other works of fiction. Upon his graduation from Penn in 1827, he briefly set up a medical practice before leaving the field of medicine to pursue a literary career.

In 1837, Robert Montgomery Bird married Mary Elizabeth Mayer (1809-1868), daughter of Philip F. Mayer, a Lutheran clergyman of Philadelphia, and Lucy Woodbridge Mayer. Mary Bird was an accomplished painter who studied under portraitist Thomas Sully. Their son, Frederic Mayer Bird (1838-1908), was born the following year. Frederic graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Union Theological Seminary. He was chaplain and professor at Lehigh University, editor of Lippincott's Magazine and the author of several books.

At the time of Robert Montgomery Bird’s death on January 23, 1854, he was living in Philadelphia and working as the literary editor and part owner of the Philadelphia North American. Bird died of “effusion of the brain.” Mary followed her husband in death on November 7, 1868.

Scope and Contents

The correspondence of Robert Montgomery Bird and his family provides details of their daily activities, travels, financial matters, the weather and their health. Notes and typed transcriptions of a majority of the letters were provided by the donor Robert Montgomery Bird (1917-2006), unless otherwise noted and are found preceding the original.

The bulk of Robert Montgomery Bird's letters are addressed to his mother and wife. Early on, he wrote to his mother of his journeys across the southern United States and his brief trip to England. Correspondence with his wife Mary primarily discusses their son Frederic, although there are brief notes they wrote to each other during their courtship. Letters from Mary's family, the Mayer's, touch on the anti-Catholic Philadelphia Nativist Riots that occurred in 1844. Also of note, are letters from Oliver Wendell Holmes to Frederic Bird discussing hymnals.

Administrative Information

Publication Information

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts,  2015 June 10

Finding Aid Author

Finding aid prepared by Kristine McGee

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Source of Acquisition

Bequest of Robert Montgomery Bird, III, 2006.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

University of Pennsylvania: Robert Montgomery Bird papers, Ms. Coll. 108.

Virginia Historical Society: Henry Dearborn Bird family papers.

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Controlled Access Headings

  • Correspondence
  • Family papers
Geographic Name(s)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)--History--19th century.
  • Authors, American--19th century
  • Families
  • Voyages and travels

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder

Bird, Frederic Mayer, 1858-1908.

1 1

Bird, Henry Dearborn to Mary M. Fox: Transcription of letters, 1830-1853.

1 2

Bird, John Dickinson to Thomas Jefferson Bird, 1839-1840.

1 3

Bird, Mary E. to Frederic Mayer Bird, 1844-1854.

1 4

Bird, Robert Montgomery, 1831-1848.

1 5-7

Bird, Robert Montgomery: Financial material, 1840-1848.

1 8

Bird, Robert Montgomery to Mary E. Bird, 1835-1836.

1 9

Bird, Robert Montgomery: Miscellaneous ephemera, 1916, undated.

1 10

Mayer family to Mary E. Bird, 1831-1844.

1 11

University of Delaware, 1990-1991.

1 12

University of Pennsylvania: Transcriptions of letters, 1837-1840.

1 13

Van Dyke, Nicholas to James M. Bird, 1820.

1 14